Institute on Religion and Democracy
August 31, 2000
In response to a National Council of Churches press release outlining an NCC delegation's upcoming trip to Cuba, Institute on Religion and Democracy president Diane Knippers has written to NCC General Secretary Robert Edgar urging him to speak up for genuine democracy and religious freedom in Cuba.
This will be the first meeting in Cuba for Dr. Edgar, who took leadership of the NCC on January first of this year, and Cuban Council of Churches (CCC) president, the Reverend Dr. Reinerio Arce. The NCC and CCC have been partners for 40+ years - years that have been marked by severe repression of religion and imprisonment of political and Christian prisoners of conscience. The NCC has been relatively silent about these human rights abuses, while very publicly criticizing the U.S. embargo against Cuba, says Knippers. She reminded Edgar that in recent times both the NCC and the World Council of Churches have had to acknowledge their failure to defend Christian dissidents in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the Cold War. "Rather than wait until freedom comes to Cuba, and apologize for silence in the face of totalitarian repression, you have the opportunity to call for religious freedom and democracy now," Knippers' letter said.
Referring to the NCC delegation's scheduled meetings with Msgr. Jaime Ortega, Roman Catholic Cardinal of Cuba, and with Cuban evangelicals and Pentecostals on this trip, Knippers said that IRD commends the NCC for reaching beyond its usual ecumenical partners. "Christians from these churches have particularly suffered at the hands of Fidel Castro," says IRD Religious Liberty Associate Faith McDonnell, "and their suffering was increased by their knowledge that some American churches were actually supporting Castro's revolution. Cuban Christian poet and patriot Armando Valladares who spent 22 years as a prisoner of conscience revealed that Cuba 's Christian prisoners were informed every time an American clergyman wrote an article in support of Castro's dictatorship. Valladares said 'that was worse for the Christian political prisoners than the beatings or the hunger. ' In more recent years, Castro himself has been invited to speak at churches in New York, and touted as a folk hero by the NCC. I'm sure that has had a similar devastating affect upon the suffering Church in Cuba," McDonnell said.
"I hope and pray that Dr. Edgar will turn over a new leaf during this trip to Cuba," Diane Knippers urged. "Acknowledging the truth about repression, and issuing a forthright call for democracy and freedom of religion, would bring a new integrity to the NCC's partnership with the body of Christ in Cuba."